Africa revival revs up Maruti 800 redux

Last Updated: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 05:05 hrs

Even as Maruti Suzuki's once bread-and-butter M800 model is seeing interest wane among buyers in India, demand for the country's once most iconic car has shot up in markets abroad.

Between April and October, Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) exported 8,300 units of the M800, an increase of 57 per cent compared to the 5,300-odd units sold in the corresponding period last year.

"M800 exports have risen largely because of the boom in demand in markets such as Egypt and Algeria in Africa. The economic and demographic profile of consumers there are similar to the customer base for M800 in India. Our cars have a strong brand appeal there, which translates into strong sales," said Shashank Srivastava, executive director (international business development, MSIL. Of the 8,300 units of the M800 Maruti Suzuki exported this year, as much 7,800 units were sold only in Algeria and Egypt.

In fact, in Algeria (which overtook Europe to become Maruti's largest export market recently), the M800 contributed nearly 40 per cent to overall sales of 16,000 units till October this year. In Egypt too, where sales were slow last year due to the Arab Spring crisis, M800 saw off-take of another 1,600 units.

Interestingly, the strong demand for M800 has come at a time when sales of small cars have contracted in most markets overseas. While exports of Maruti Suzuki's best-selling exports' model A-Star have tanked by 38 per cent to around 20,000 units, Tata Motors' too has shipped overseas only two units of the people's car Nano in the first six months of the financial year. Tata Motors had exported 1,125 units in the same period last year.

"Currently, the Nano is being exported to only two markets - Nepal and Sri Lanka. Exports of the car have fallen sharply because of the sharp increase in taxes imposed on vehicles in Sri Lanka earlier this year. We are examining several new markets for exports for the Nano," said a spokesperson at Tata Motors.

Overall, exports of small cars (having engine capacity up to one litre) have dropped by a whopping 25 per cent to 60,607 units between April and October this year. Srivastava added, "The fall in exports is market specific. While A-Star exports have been growing to countries in Latin America, West Asia and Asean, overall exports of the car have declined because of the recession in Europe where we ship a major proportion of the model. We additionally had to reschedule shipments because of the disruption in production at Manesar. On the other hand sales in Algeria have doubled over last year which has boosted sales of the M800."

The strong exports numbers may spell some hope for M800 which is scheduled to go off the roads in India once the BSIV emission norms become applicable across the country by 2015-16. "If the M800 continues to see strong demand overseas and is able to meet emission norms in these countries, the company may continue to produce the car," said an industry observer on the condition of anonymity. At present, sales of M800 have been have already been stalled in 13 cities where BSIV norms have come into force. Maruti Suzuki has categorically stated it would not invest and upgrade the model.

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